Friday, 25 September 2009

A Good TIme to Give

To my shame I won’t be giving a sermon on Tzedakah this Rosh Hashanah - Yom Kippur season.

I have my reasons, other things to speak on, but I’m not sure I could justify them before those who benefit from the support we provide to so many important causes.

 ‘Benefit’ is probably the wrong word. I’m not sure what I can say to those who need the support we could offer.


I received a honeycake in the run up to Rosh Hashanah. It came from a boy who will celebrate his bar mitzvah this year (sadly not at NLS). He was introduced to his now adopted parents through Norwood several years ago and as a social action project to celebrate his coming of age he has been baking honey cakes to raise money so a child who is under the care of Norwood can celebrate their bar mitzvah too.


I attended a wedding recently where the kippot made available to guests had been sourced from a fair trade co-operative in Tamil Nadu. This was on top of their request that guests make a donation to the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.


This is the way we should do tzedakah, this is the way we should give tzedakah; as a response to the passing moments of our own life. As the milestones tick past, we should be looking for opportunities to give, opportunities to lead others in giving. Those of you who are members of New London you will have received notice of our Kol Nidrei appeal where we are raising funds to support the work of the Synagogue and the UJIA and of course I feel most passionately about these charities.

But, at this time of year especially, my mail, both electronic and printed, is full of worthy causes, worthier causes than all but a minority of my own spending.

It’s a good time to give.

More than that, it is a lousy time to let slip by without giving, without responding to our obligation to acts of justice and righteousness, tzedek tzedek tirdof - tzedek tzedek tirdof – You shall pursue acts of righteousness.


With blessings to all for a good sealing, a good fast and a good year,


Rabbi Jeremy


Monday, 21 September 2009

On Religious Community

We’ve had 85 new adult members in the year just past. In other words something like 15% of our membership is new.

Shabbat morning services are transformed. They are warmer, more dynamic, far busier and with a far broader spread of age groups making up our regular prayer community.

We had 25 kids in our last Shabbat Children’s service of the year. That’s more or less a ten fold increase on where we were 18 months ago.

We’ve had to put a halt on registrations for the youngest classes of our Sunday morning Cheder as registrations passed 60. That’s double where we were a year ago.

We officiated at seven weddings last year and the year before, but have double that number of bookings in the year ahead.

I’ve lost count of the number of baby blessings we’ve done; somewhere between 25 and 35, and it’s been a very long time since that was the case at New London.

Lastly and perhaps most significant of all, we have the largest conversion programme in Britain, again doubling in size this last year.


In difficult economic times,

Against the backdrop of statistics announcing the atrophy and death of Anglo-Jewry.

And coming on the back of a series of challenging years for this community,

That’s not bad.

Not bad at all.


And it’s not just numbers, I am continually staggered by the quality of new Jews, new members, members of long-standing, young members and older members who are making their Jewish home at New London and lifting our community with the quality of their presence, contribution and commitment.


All this makes for a sense of warmth and welcome in the community.

A confidence in the community.

A sense of community in the community.

To those of you, many, many of you, who are engaged week-in week-out in this enriched sense of what it means to be seriously engaged with our communal life at New London, I want to thank you for your efforts this part year and urge you, urge all of us, to keep our feet firmly planted on the accelerator, there is much more we have to do in the year to come.

But I suspect the regulars here will already know the answer to my major question on this most holy day. So I hope you will forgive me if I address this sermon to the rest of us.

And in particular to those of us navigating the edges of this community, I want to invite you also to step a little closer.


My question, my questions are these

Why should a person be engaged in a Jewish community?

Why should a person be engaged in this Jewish community?

Why is it worth caring for, giving up time and money for.

What do you get in return?


It’s not obvious.

We live in a world which increasingly confuses freedom and maturity with isolation and individualisation.

We’ve a confused sense of freedom which means we distrust commitment.

We’ve a confused sense of science which means we distrust faith.

And we are all just so busy, busy, busy.


Why should a person be engaged in a Jewish community?

Why should a person be engaged in this Jewish community?


I want to give two answers, one political, the other personal.

There is a third answer, of course – theological, but I’m not going to address that today.


The political first.

Politics – from the Greek, politicos – of citizens or of the state.

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in the City – St Ethelburgas was in large part destroyed by the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing of the IRA and has risen from the rubble as one of the most important centres for inter-faith dialogue and peace building in the country.

I was asked this question –


Since so many of the conflicts and troubles of the world can be blamed on religion, why don’t we give up on organised religion and commit instead to becoming generally decent and ethical?


It’s a question I hear frequently.

There are however at least three reasons why this invitation, despite its simplistic appeal, needs to be rejected.


Firstly, if you want to blame of the woes of the world on religion, then I would insist that you give religion the credit for its contributions.


Democracy and human rights are both intimately bound up in what the outside world calls Judeo-Christian morality – what I would call a belief in the creation of every human btzelem elohim - in the image of a one true God.

If you want to pin the IRA on religion, then give religion the credit for universal suffrage and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.


Try imagining any of the glorious liberation struggles of modernity without reference to the tale of Exodus  - yetziayat mitzrayaim.

If you want to pin Osama Bin Laden on religion, then give religion the credit for the Rev. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.


And what of the calls of the great Hebrew prophets to care for the unvoiced, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry?

If you want to pin the Taliban on religion, then give religion credit for leading the work to write off Third World debt and give religion the credit for every life saved by Christian Aid, Islamic Aid, World Jewish Aid, American Jewish World Service and all the rest of them.


If you want to blame religion for her failings, then she deserves credit for her extra-ordinary and unmatched successes.

That should even up the scales somewhat.


Secondly, the suggestion that religion is to blame for the woes of the world is easily made, but the evidence hardly compels. It’s not clear to me that religions can be blamed for the evils of Nazism or Stalinism or Maoism, Darfur, Rwanda …

277 young men and women lost their lives to knife crime in England and Wales in the year last year, but I don’t think organised religion should be blamed for any of those deaths, or the burglaries, beatings and abuses of contemporary society.

In fact it may be that organised religious communities are the best agents for supporting young people to turn away from gangs and street violence, restoring on our streets and in our homes values of respect, decency and kindness.

Sure there are some religious bigots and idiots out there, but the notion that religion is somehow behind the troubles of the world is lazy and unbefitting the scientific mind.

It needs to be rejected.


And thirdly, forsaking religious distinctiveness is not going to help. I am forced, by faith, to appreciate how every human being was created in the image of God even though every other human being was created differently to me with different beliefs and different ethnic and national proclivities.

We are not going to solve the problems of the world by ‘getting over’ who we are, whether we are black, white, Jew or Muslim.

I’m a Jew, by birth, by choice, by heart and by soul. I’m not going to find peace by forgetting that my ancestors fled Egypt with unleavened cakes baking on their backs. We are not going to solve the problems of Israel and Palestine by pretending that Jews and Arabs are just the same really or that one side or the other doesn’t care about the things we so self-evidently feel so deeply about.

As a Zionist I trace my engagement to the Land and the State back to Biblical times; as do my Palestinian cousins. We have to accept, listen even value to these claims. They can’t be ignored.


Jews can’t be told to ‘get over the Holocaust,’ just as Blacks can’t be told to ‘get over slavery.’ We need to find ways to grow and engage with one another because of our stories and histories, our passions, our strangeness and our dreams. Stripping us of our customs and narratives from us doesn’t make for a true meeting of souls. It makes rich colours dull and grey.


The suggestion that the world would be better without religion not only implies a drastic refusal to give religion the credit it deserves, it also involves a blinkered willingness to subsume all of society’s ill onto a convenient aunt sally. And most of all it forgets that religion isn’t a bolt on extra that can be deleted from its adherents, it’s a part of the soul of a person – delete that and you lose a person’s passion.


The problem isn’t organised religion.

The problem is our ability to articulate what being religious truly means.

Religion means being a son, a daughter of our holy tradition, understanding our place in community and in society, fighting injustice, speaking up for the unvoiced, taking steps towards an engagement with the awesome truth of creation.


And that is what we do here.

This is our heritage not only as run-of-mill, standard-kind of Synagogal Jews, but most particularly because we are New London Jews.

We stand for the open minded engagement in a tradition of tremendous richness and value.

And our voice is becoming ever more desperately needed and ever more valued in contemporary society.

In the last two week’s I’ve been invited to speak on BBC, and at the Muslim Council of Britain, I’ve been to Number 10. I’ve been trying to play my role.

Together with colleagues in this Synagogue and other partners in my sister Masorti communities we are at the heart of every major debate where religion should be playing its part in the healing of the world; ecology, poverty, inter-faith, education, evolution.

There is a political reason to be part of the community – politics – of citizens or of the state.

The reason is that our fellow citizens and our society need our contribution.

They, we, need our voice, the voice of open-minded engagement with an ancient tradition of holiness to be strong, particularly now. Particularly in the year we begin today.


So much for the politics.

The other reason to be part of religious community, this religious community, is personal, individual.

Each Shabbat I look out from this pulpit at the members I know well and I see stories, some hidden, some known, some in between.

There are those who are fighting cancer, those who are mourning, those who care for sick partners, sick kids, miscarriages, bankrupt businesses and broken relationships.

Each Shabbat I look out from this pulpit at the members I know well and I see the joy.

There are those in love, those expecting, those celebrating.

And we all shuffle in bringing our celebrations and commiserations, our gratitude and our grief and we prayer as a single community - together.

I was hugely struck by an extract from Alain de Boton’s book, Status Anxiety. He talks about Christian experience, but the analogy will do for us here too.


We might imagine [says de Boton] joining an unfamiliar congregation within the walls of a cathedral to hear Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Much may separate us; age, clothes and background. We may never have spoken to one another and be wary of letting others catch our gaze. But as the Mass begins, so to does a process of social alchemy. The music gives expression to feelings that had hitherto seemed inchoate and private … the composer and musicians [make] audible to us … the movement of our souls.

Furthermore, [he continues] the public nature of the performance helps us … realise that if the others are responding as we are to the music, then they cannot be the incomprehensible figures we might previously imagined them to be. Their emotions run along the same track as do ours, they are stirred by the very same thing, and so whatever the difference in appearance and manner, we share a common cause, upon which a connection can be forged and extended for beyond the performance of the Mass itself.[1]


This is our Cathedral.

And this chazzan, this choir; they are singing our version of that Mass.

Congregational prayer is Jewish alchemy that turns us from individual players, wandering our lonely way across the stage of life, into a full corps, a massed choir in which every note makes up a symphony greater, truer and more resonant than any solo narrative.


When we stand together, in this glorious vaulted prayer space of ours we stand on giants shoulders. And the differences between us melt before forces and powers far greater than any of us.


So if you have celebrations. Come and share them with us. Come and lift up our spirits.

And if you are mourning, come and share with us. Force us to know the realities of this world where good people suffer and pain is only ameliorated by companionship and love. If you are mourning, let us stand beside you, sing with you.

Because we are more powerful standing together.

And whether you are marking the passing of a week, a month or a year, come and share with us. Allow yourselves to become part of the great symphony we perform week-in week-out.


The door is open, the welcome is warm, our task is holy and vital and if you do join us, as you do join us, you help us stand together with you, and you stand together with us.


This is what we do,

This is the point of religious community.

And this is no ordinary religious community. Aside from our history and all our various qualities, this is our religious community, this is our shul.

It is where we need to come to fight the fight, to spread the messages of our faith.

And it is where we come to sit together and pray together, in our moments of celebration and our moments of loss.

It is a place to come to for politics and for people.

For great big reasons and for a vast host of tiny reasons too.

It is my honour to serve this community as your Rabbi and I look forward to our steps forward in the year to come.

May it come to us all in peace, health, joy and sweetness,

Shannah Tovah.

[1] p. 260

Friday, 18 September 2009

On Prayer

If Teshuvah Tefilah and Tzedakah are the three driving forces of the RH/YK season, it's Tefilah, prayer, that gets the thin treatment in sermons.

It's hard to give a sermon about prayer.

Prayer is the thing that happens around the sermon, outside the sermon.


But I feel a need to speak about prayer, because I think prayer is where most of us get lost, most of the time.

We're almost certainly stuck with some remnant of a defeated vision of prayer in which we once asked something of God and God didn't come through for us.

And while we might like the tunes and while we might like standing together with other Jews through time and space singing the same prayers, I'm not sure that that is enough.


There is certainly a hefty volume to get through today, packed full of prayers.

And they are all ordered neatly – siddur – the very word means order.

Machzor – comes from the Hebrew to repeat. It's expected, standardised.

And there are these neat patterns to the liturgy; we say this twice a day, and this three times a day.

The musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah is a paradigm of order;

Three sets of three blessings,

Three opening, three closing and in the middle, the core of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, another three.

We call them Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot and each of these, in turn, fit into a nice and neat pattern, you get three verses from Torah, three from the Prophets and three from the Writings and one more from Torah, three times over.

It's all so neat and tidy that one could be forgiven for thinking that prayer is indeed neat and tidy.

You turn up, start on page 1, finish on page a hundred and something and go home having successfully prayed.

And that would be a terrible error.

Because real prayer is not about structures and three of these and ten of those.

It's not about standardised systems and rules and neatness.

Prayer's not supposed to be comfortable.

Prayer is supposed to be discomforting, raw.


There are, in our haftorah readings over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tremendous prayers.

We read yesterday of Hannah's prayer, interrupted by the local priest who thinks she is drunk.

How long are you going to keep on with the drinking? Asks Eli.

I'm not drunk, Hannah responds, I'm bitter of spirit and I'm pouring out my heart before God.[1]

Eli's missed a real prayer arrayed right before him.


We read in the book of Jonah, we'll read it in nine days time, of sailors desperate on a ship tossed in the waves and the citizens of Nineveh, desperate to be saved.

And the captain of the ship said to Jonah – what are you doing asleep, get up and call to your God and maybe – ulai – God won't destroy us.[2]

And the King of Nineveh calls on his people to repent and pray – umi yodeah – he says, and who knows, maybe God will turn from His anger and not destroy.[3]


Ulai - Maybe

Mi Yodeah – Who knows


Prayer isn't about clarity or certainty.

It's about a void and an attempt to find some kind of language that eases the disconnect between our selves and the world we find ourselves inhabiting.


The Talmud asks, who is appropriate to lead prayers for a community on a fast day?

Rav Yehudah answers, someone with a large family who has no ability to support them.[4]


Real prayer stands on the other side of the scale from order, standardisation, structures.

Prayer is born of an existential insecurity. An empty gnawing born of uncertainty.

Real prayer is about the inability to sit securely in ivory towers surveying our wealth and privilege.

It's about the nagging sense that something is missing.


On Rosh Hasnnah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who by fire and who by water.


The truth is that even if, today, I am wealthy and well, mi yodeah what could come tomorrow?

And that's why real prayer is at the heart of our journey through these sacred days.


These are days inured against assuming that what is will be.

Assuming anything.

Our lives are up for review.

And prayer, real prayer, asks of us to be honest in this place.

What is really going on for us?

Can we touch a place of honesty in saying something and meaning it?

Can we touch a place of honesty which is worthy of setting before God – bochen clayot – who know our very innermost thoughts?


In the central Unatanei Tokef prayer we talk about the creations of the world appearing in single file before our God. We each have moment. The image the liturgy uses is of a shepherd counting his flock, each sheep passing under the staff on their own.

What do we truly have to say in our moment before the Heavenly shepherd?


The great Yiddish writer Yud Lamed Peretz has a short story, Bontshe Shvayg, Bontshe the Silent. It's a story about a simple Jew who lives a simple life but whose death is the cause of great commotion in the world to come.

The angels trumpet his simple decency, his refusal to cry out, his willingness to just get on with things.

Not even the prosecutor in the great angelic court on high can find a case to bring against him.

So the judge looks tenderly out a Bontshe and offers him the chance to chose his own portion of paradise.


Take what you want, it is yours, all yours

Bontshe looked up, his eyes were blinded by the rays of light … so many angels.

'Truly?' he asked, happy but abashed.

Why of course, it's all yours. Ask for anything you wish, you can chose what you like.

Truly? Asked Bontshe again

'Truly, truly, truly' clamoured the heavenly host.

Well then, smiled Bonthse, 'what I would like most of all is a warm roll with fresh butter every morning.

The judges and angels hung their heads in shame. The prosecutor laughed.[5]


The problem being that we spend so much of our lives, so many many words, not so much being dishonest, as being dull.



Hi, how are you?

Fine, thanks and you?

Oh fine, thanks for asking.

We must catch up one day?

I'ld like that, I'll give you a call.

Sure, we can meet up for lunch.


And so on it goes.

We don't practice spiritual bravery, we don't practice being this kind of honest.

Our souls are dulled.


Most of us spend most of our lives under such a thick veneer of emotional safety and politesse that the encounter with the starkly honest comes only in fleeting moments.

And in truth it is only possible to pray, really pray, for a split moment.


I got caught in a moment of honesty this year.

It happened, when my three year old son ran into the road and got hit by a passing and thankfully not a speeding car.

He's fine, my son, but sitting in the ambulance, standing in the operating theatre off to the side of the A&E in amongst the tubes and needles and blood curdling screams I prayed, really prayed.

I got caught in a moment of honesty.


It doesn't have to come in moments of terror.

I've been at a number of batei din in the past couple of weeks. And at the end of the whole interview and the Mikvah and everything I get to give these extraordinary people a blessing.


May God bless you and keep you


I know these people, I know their journey and I know their hunger and their sincerity and commitment and I know how deep it goes. And it's a tremendous honour to offer that prayer in that place. And I usually cry, and they usually cry. And that is what prayer is supposed to be about.


Prayer wants to be as real as the time you asked your beloved to marry you, or the time you said yes.

Prayer wants to be as real as the time you felt your life really could go one way or the either and you sucked in a breath and strode out into an unknown future.

Prayer wants to know what you really are thinking about, once all the household chores and football scores are left behind like the inconsequential details they are.

Prayer wants to know what is happening in your soul.


What is the role of the structure; the machzor and the siddur?

It's a practice, a spiritual practice.

It's like doing scales, running merrily up and down the keyboard in the hope that when it's needed the techniques we've spent time absorbing into our souls will bear fruit. And our practice during the year is so we can reach today and pray.

And practice is necessary, but practice should never be confused with performance.

Nor should what happens up here on the bimah, or up there in the choir loft be confused with performance.

Performance is private.

And if someone catches you at it, they'll think you're probably drunk. Let 'em think what they wish.

You have your own life to save.


Can you get there?

Can any of us, or are we all too bound up in what Martin Buber calls I-It relationships; shallow superficial, functional encounters, that we have lost touch with the ability to bare ourselves?


There are other sermons that could be given on whether God listens, or whether we can truly topple the decree arraigned against, but none of these other sermons mean anything if we can't truly pray.

None of these other sermons mean anything if at the moment we stand before God we have nothing to say for ourselves.

And today is the day to stand before God.

It's getting late in the day, it might be a little late to reverse years of accreted spiritual limescale today.

The good news is we have until Yom Kippur before the gates close.

And I would like us to find, in the space between now and then, a moment in which to pray.


Let me offer some tips.


First we need to trust that it's OK to admit that we fall short.

We don't have to pretend, to ourselves, or our God, that we are flawless.

God won't mind, God created us that way. To pretend otherwise is a dishonesty.

Let it go.


Secondly we need to develop a sense of un-ease with ourselves, un-ease directed against a too polished life in which we try too hard to hide the bits that don't fit and the relationships we would rather avoid.

This is the bit where we want to run away, talk about warm rolls and fresh butter, football scores and shopping chores.

We need to bring some attention on to the parts that don't work.


And thirdly we need to step back, step away from the humdrum, fickle business of the world. Shul is great for stepping away – no phone, no blackberry, no itinerary, agenda – any of it. Just you passing before your Your Creator like a sheep making an appearance before the Shepherd.

Come to shul, or go somewhere else where you can step away, but be somewhere where you can pray – where you can meet yourself.


These things don't come easily, especially when we are out of practice.

My experience is that they come more easily on Yom Kippur than Rosh Hashanah – so we have nine days to get it right.


And what do we get if we manage to cut through all the barriers and blockages?

What happens is we manage this moment of exposure, intimate and honest.

Well first we get an opportunity to meet ourselves – the long-lost deeply-buried version of our souls that we packed up and put away in the loft many years ago, that's worth something.

And this meeting will change the way we see ourselves, it will change the way we see the challenges and prospects that come our way in this year ahead.


If we can begin to see ourselves more clearly, understand our needs more honestly I guarantee our relationships with those around us will be transformed, made deeper, less fickle, less prone to be sidetracked into discussions about shopping lists and football scores. It will enrich our ability to live well in this world, with those people we share this world with.


And finally – God might be tempted. Our job, on this day, is to hurl up our prayers towards the heavens, changing ourselves and our inter-personal relationships as we do so. But we believe that just as real prayer cuts through our own souls, it can cut through the morass clogging up the heavens.


Ulai – Perhaps

Mi yodeah – who knows


But prayer, real prayer is far too important to let us get sidetracked too the exclusion of all else by the issue of God's response.

Prayer changes us.

It changes the relationships we create and thereby the world in which we find ourselves.

It changes the way we see ourselves and the way we see the world around us.

And it may change God.

All of that is tremendously valuable and I urge us all to try it.


I want to end with a prayer.

It comes from the Talmud.

The story is told that when the students would leave the study hall of Rav Ammi they would say to him the following,


May you live to see your world fulfilled,
May your destiny be for worlds still to come,
And may you trust in generations past and yet
 to be.  
May your heart be filled with intuition
and your words be filled with insight.
May songs of praise ever be upon your tongue
and your vision be on a straight path before you.
May your eyes shine with the light of holy words
and your face reflect the brightness of the heavens.
May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.


And I am sure they would, if they were due to leave on Rosh Hashanah conclude their prayer, as I conclude mine,

And may your year be full of sweetness, decency and health,

Shannah Tovah

[1] I Sam 1:15

[2] Jonah 1:6

[3] 3:9

[4] Taanit 16a

[5] I.L. Peretz Reader, ed Wiess. Trans H. Halkin p.152

[6] Talmud 17a, Trans L. Kushner

Potential and possibility - L'Shannah Tovah


At the heart of my love of Judaism is the verse that proclaims every human is created in the image of God. (Gen 1:27) Folded inside each of us is a spark of glory. The great poetic soul of Rav Kook built an entire approach to Teshuvah from here. Teshuvah, for Rav Kook is not about sackcloth and ashes, it’s about firing-up that spark and letting it illuminate the rest of our lives and actions.

Reading Rav Kook is a glorious antidote to approaches to ‘repentance’ that owe more to Christian notions of original sin than Jewish notions of the creation of all humans btzelem – in the Divine image.


We are created a little less than angels (Psalms 8:5), the potential is so great. No other creature can compete with the extraordinary array of acts of altruism, care, loving kindness, decency and righteousness shown by humans of every ilk at every moment. But then no other creature has the power to destroy as we do. Our failings aren’t inevitable, the ability to catch ourselves, as we trip and stumble, is in our hands. It just takes care and attention.


Every person must see themselves as half worthy and half guilty.
And so too all the world, as if it were half worthy and half guilty.
A person sins one sin, behold they tip themselves, and tip the whole world, onto the scale of guilt.
A person performs one good deed, behold they tip themselves, and tip the whole world, onto the scale of merit.

(Mishneh Torah Hil. Teshuvah 3.8)


In the year to come let’s focus our energies on making contributions to the scale of worth and merit. We can be kinder, more just, fairer and more careful. We can bring healing to a broken world and broken relationships.


Those of you I have wounded and hurt, please accept my apologies. I’ll be trying harder in the year to come,


L’Shannah Tovah


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thought on Machzorim for the Masorti Movement in Britain

The report that follows is a draft and I am grateful to its authros for permission to publish it here.
More information on the new Lev Shalem Mahazor, including PdF files suitable for download and use on Rosh Hashanah and, particularly, Kol Nidrei, can be found at

Shannah Tovah to all





                                                                                                              August 2009  



1        Introduction


At the AMS Council meeting in July Michael Rose (MR) drew attention to the disturbing situation that the Birnbaum and Routledge machzorim have disappeared from the market, leaving the benighted Artscroll as the only traditional machzor on sale in the UK.   Routledge has been out of print for many years and MR was informed that the publishers of Birnbaum,  The Hebrew Publishing Co., are due to close down this year.


The Council deputed MR and Chazan Jacky Chernett (JC) to investigate the position and report back to the Council, consulting as appropriate with the Rabbis and the service committees of the AMS congregations.  


As a first step we have prepared this interim report.  We have included information from Rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg (RJW) and Jeremy Gordon (RJG), and have been in touch  with representatives in the USA regarding the Rabbinical Assembly’s new machzor  Lev Shalem, scheduled for publication in May 2010.  


Is there scope for a UK Masorti machzor?


We have assumed that it is not a practical proposition for the AMS to create its own machzor.     In Rabbi Jeremy Gordon’s words,“The demands in terms of work involved are too great and the demand in terms of those who would wish to use such a creation is too small.  I am not even sure that one machzor is the right way forward for our various and varied communities.” 


2   Machzorim currently available


 The machzorim currently available or in use in AMS congregations are listed in appendix 1 to this report.


3          The new RA machzor Lev Shalem


3.1   The forthcoming  RA machzor, Lev Shalem,  would seem to offer the best way forward.  The editorial committee, led by Rabbi Ed Feld, has circulated to interested parties samples consisting of (1) the text of the Kol Nidrei service and (2) some extracts from Rosh Hashanah musaf.    We have permission to circulate the electronic files of these samples internally to those who will be considering this report  (not of course for general publication). Copies are therefore attached to this note.

3.2   We have also been promised a sight of the full text when it has been finalised and proof-read- expected early December 2009- with permission to circulate internally as above.


3. 3    Please see Appendix 2 for a summary of key features of Lev Shalem, based on the impressive Kol Nidre draft.


3.4      The list price will be $44 plus shipping- reduced to   $22 plus shipping if ordered before 30 January 2010



4          Some questions for consideration


4.1   Will the new RA machzor be close enough to the forms of service in our AMS synagogues to be enable it to be used by individuals to take part in our services?

4.2  Should AMS encourage the use of  Lev Shalem as the “preferred” machzor to be used by our shlichei  tsibbur?

4.3  Could there be  there other options, eg Rosenstein’s forthcoming Eit Ratson machzor? (see Appendix 1)



5        Proposed action


  •  This note to be circulated with the samples of Lev Shalem to AMS Council, Rabbis, principal chazanim and chairs of services committees
  • Obtain  comments and fix a preliminary review meeting this autumn
  • Circulate the full text of Lev Shalem when available (anticipated December)
  • Consider placing an order at the  special price of $22 before 30 January 2010
  • Plan future study groups based on Lev Shalem, eg for Ellul next year.


6        Omnam Ken- Rabbi Feld’s offer


The draft of the Kol Nidre service omits Omnam Ken, a favourite in England (perhaps not least because it was composed by the martyred Rabbi Yom Tov of York).    Rabbi Feld, recognizing this, has suggested that their designer might set this piyyut as a separate page in the same style and typeface as Lev Shalem, together with any translation or transliteration we would like to include as a supplement to accompany machzorim sold to UK purchasers.   If possible they would probably need a decision and the translation etc before the end of December 2009.  He says that there would be  no extra cost, which is most generous.  

 Do we want to pursue this suggestion and if so have we any Rabbinic or other volunteers to work on the translation of this untranslatable masterpiece?








In use in Masorti congregations


  • Routledge

This traditional machzor has been out of print for many years.   RJG lists its weaknesses as “Typesetting, age, ‘out of date’.


  • Birnbaum 

Birnbaum’s notes and source references are excellent.  Originating in 1951,  it is printed in an old form that is not too easy on the eye.  There are no transliterations, not even for the mourner’s kaddish.  Translation (not quite literal) aims at being more accessible and is a better option than Routledge- though still using “thee”, “thy” etc.  Hebrew font for main text is clear and a good size.  Easy to use and is a good recommendation for those who don’t need transliterations and who are familiar with the text.  RH and YK are in one volume which is quite weighty.


As indicated above, no more copies are being printed and the Hebrew Publishing Company is reportedly about to close down.


  • Artscroll


Traditional, well set out but as RJG puts it, “not ‘mishpocha’, with concerns regarding various theological and historical issues”


  • Silverman


The oldest American Conservative machzor  in circulation.   Traditional,  attractively laid out.    Used at SAMS (who acquired them from USA around the time when the Harlow machzor was introduced).


  • Jules Harlow


The current  Rabbinical Assembly machzor.    Used by Kol Nefesh.   RJG comments that it “works well in less formal settings”.   He describes it as  “clear, easy to access English, some transliteration.    A bit light (a number of piyyutim not included)….works well in less formal settings such as Minyan Chadash”


  • France


   Rabbi Krygier has edited a Masorti machzor for France and is to send us a copy for reference.  


NB    Other machzorim, such as the kabbalist Ari machzor, Reform publications and at least two  Reconstructionist  machzorim are outside the scope of this report.



  • Lev Shalem    -   See above
  • Eit Ratson

Jacky Chernett is impressed by the siddur Eit Ratson,  edited by Joseph Rosenstein and published by Shiviti Publications in 2003.   A machzor is now in progress.  Jacky writes that the siddur, with “traditional text, excellent poetic layout, full transliteration, good rubrics, commentaries, kavvanot and meditations”  has been well received by congregants of Kol Nefesh.   “Alternatives to difficult texts are offered alongside traditional ones, with explanations.   The siddur has brought meaning to many people, particularly those whose Hebrew is not fluent but are serious in seeking a meaningful experience in prayer. There are some omissions, however, and the author is open to all comments.   We need to see the completed machzor before commenting”.




1   General

   Lev Shalem is in no sense a revised edition or continuation of the current RA machzor  (Jules Harlow) but adopts an entirely original, though more traditional approach.    This is explained in the Preface and can be seen in the main sample received to date, ie the Kol Nidre service.  The committee of 10, chaired by Rabbi Edward Feld, comprises 8 Rabbis and 2 cantors.


The aim is to combine study and prayer, “always..intimately linked” in Jewish tradition.   There are  four elements:


  • The Hebrew text
  • The translation
  • A running commentary on the right of the Hebrew text
  • Readings and meditations-kavvanot-  on the left of the translation

There is  transliteration of everything the congregation might sing in Hebrew.  The typeface and page design are clear and attractive with intelligent use of colour and italics.  There are notational “signposts” for practices  such as bowing etc.


2        The Hebrew text

·         Basically the traditional Ashkenazic texts though adding some Sefardi and Italian prayers.

·         Some piyyutim omitted, notably Omnam Ken

·         Adds some contemporary prayers

·         “Matriarch inclusion” in alternative first Amida blessing

NB   We may want to make a note of  changes which have been introduced into American Conservative practice in earlier decades and carried over into Lev Shalem- eg in the Sim Shalom prayer and treatment of prayers for restoration of sacrifices.  Query to what extent further changes have been made.


Cross-referencing is used to avoid repetition of passages appearing more than once- check the extent of this as it can become disconcerting to the worshipper.


3        Translation

The translation is new and original

·         Designed “to reflect the Hebrew original as closely as possible, allowing the English reader to experience the text without a filter”

·         “Where the English text is jarring, which it sometimes is, the translation ought not to smooth over the difficulty.”   


Not “sanitised” or “Americanised”


·         Aims to convey Hebrew “prose poetry”

·         Aims to be prayerful- put the English reader in the mood for prayer.

·         Gender-neutral while conveying the intent and meaning of the original

·         Some expressions not translated- eg barukh atah Adonai and other basic words such as mitzvah.


4        The running commentary     (right hand margin) 


A modern commentary to explain such matters as

  • Historical origins of the text
  •  unusual vocabulary
  • difficult ideas, key concepts
  • context of prayers


5        Readings and meditations     (left hand margin)

  • Focus attention at key moments
  • Readings congregation may recite
  • Alternative renderings “that offer a different take on the original text than in the more literal translation”


6   Conclusion


The Kol Nidre sample is impressive.  The translations are thoughtful and measured, yet moving.  They and the commentary give every appearance of being based on careful scholarship.  The interpretative materials contain much that may attract the individual worshipper, particularly some of the alternative renderings.  


The machzor will provide an excellent basis for individual and group study.   Its effectiveness for leading and following services will be tested when the book becomes available in 2010.

                                                                                              Michael Rose

                                                                                             Jacky Chernett      


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